Are you one of the 60 million Americans suffering from insomnia? Or perhaps you experience the flip side and have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. Do you fall asleep easily after a meal or when driving? The first step in improving the quality of your sleep is experiment with natural sleep remedies that adjust your circadian rhythm. This inner rhythm controls not just sleep, but other major biological functions. I have several natural remedies you can try below that are certain to get your cycle back on track!
Sleep disruptions are concerning because they lead not only to irritability and exhaustion, but also to muscle stiffness, impaired cognitive function, weight gain, and a higher incidence of diabetes and cancer.
It’s important to get help!
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker
Western biomedicine focuses on the physical cause of sleep disturbances and medical doctors prescribe pharmaceutical drugs for treatment. Though initially effective, these pills should not be used long-term since they can become addictive or have serious side effects.
The Root Cause of Sleep Disturbances and my Personal Struggle
Of course it’s wise to have a discussion with your health professional if you think your body has a serious dysfunction that may need the help of pharmaceuticals. But it will not hurt to try natural methods first since the reason most people have sleep issues is that they’re simply out of touch with their circadian cycle.
I’ve had trouble with sleep for decades. In my early 20’s I was putting myself through undergraduate school – going to classes in the mornings, working swing-shift full-time at my job, studying until late at night and then starting over early the next morning with massive amounts of coffee.
I never had problems going to sleep because I had such a huge deficit. I was falling asleep all the time in class and had a hard time waking up in the morning. It wasn’t until my 2nd minor car accident in stop-and-go traffic (the first was in the University parking garage, both were in the morning) that I realized I had a problem.
After weaning off caffeine and working on my sleep habits in my 30’s I started to experience the opposite problem: insomnia. I couldn’t have any caffeine at all or it would guarantee a night of staring at the ceiling. I was also kept awake with racing thoughts and muscle tension.
Today, I’m finally at a point where I sleep great 95% of the time. It took a lot of experimenting, but I have clarity on what harms and what helps my sleep.
Natural Remedies to Reset Your Sleep Rhythm
Below are my suggestions for getting back on track with your circadian rhythm. It comes down to your sleep/wake cycle, amount of sun exposure, and body temperature which all regulate melatonin production. And then you actually need to listen to your body when the melatonin surge tells you to go to bed at night! It may take some patience and experimentation, but it’s certainly worthwhile to try.
(1) Get to sleep before 10:00pm
I know, when the kids fall asleep at night it’s party time for some parents! Or maybe you like staying up late because you feel more productive at night. It may sound like a drag, but going to bed early is the first thing to try if you have sleep issues. Every single article or study I’ve read on sleep says so. I do best when I’m asleep by 10:00 pm too.
If you go to bed early but are unable to fall asleep, try the following over the next few days:
Watch what you eat and drink
- Adjust your caffeine intake It’s good to take an honest look at how dependent you are on caffeine and to see what happens when you reduce it. Can you limit it to just morning time? Can you substitute with decaffeinated drinks? You may want to take a look at chocolate too, which can also be overstimulating.
- Adjust protein intake at night – More research needs to be done, but there are a few studies that show high protein intake can cause insomnia. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese dietetics recommend a lower protein dinner at night too so the liver can rest and not disturb sleep.
- Adjust alcohol intake at night – Again, your liver should be resting at night and alcohol, like a heavy meat dinner, will make it work too hard. We’ll explore this more when we talk about Traditional Chinese Medicine as an effective method for improving sleep in a future blog post.
- Consider supplementing with magnesium – Magnesium (as well as calcium) deficiency is a problem for some people and can show up as insomnia. Magnesium has also been shown to decrease cortisol, a stress hormone that can keep you awake at night. You can talk to your health care professional about supplementing with pure magnesium, but it wouldn’t hurt to increase magnesium-rich foods in your diet and/or take Epsom salt baths too. Epsom salt is a great source of magnesium and your body absorbs as much as it needs. The bath will also help with muscular tension (see below).
Establish a Healthy Self-care Sleep Routine
- Ease muscular tension – Give yourself a soothing essential oil massage and enjoy a relaxing yoga routine. I’ll share my favorite winding-down yoga sequence in our next post.
- Decrease blue light exposure – It’s becoming well-known that blue light interferes with melatonin production and disrupts sleep. It’s best to avoid screens 2-3 hours before bed. Consider keeping the lights dim at night and try sleeping in a darker room. If a child needs a night light for comfort, make sure it’s a warm, red-hued light.
- Turn down the heat – Most people sleep better when their heads are kept cool. 65-68°F is apparently the ideal range.
(2) Wake with the sun
In addition to going to bed earlier, see if you can wake up naturally, weaning yourself off of using an alarm. I know this may sound scary if you have early morning meetings at work or have kids to get ready for school. But if you’re going to bed by 10 pm over a few weeks, then you’ll consistently start waking up ~5-7 am. Hopefully that gives you enough time to get yourself and the kids ready in the morning.
If you’re having a hard time waking, try to:
- Get some morning sunshine as soon as you can.
- Eat a big protein-packed breakfast to fuel your body and get it moving.
- Try to exercise and do as much activity in the sunlight throughout the day.
- Resist the urge to caffeine-up or to take a nap – Both might interfere with the progress you’re making in balancing your inner clock as it adjusts with the sun.
- You’re on your way to better sleep habits!
What More You Can Do To Get Better Sleep
Finding and adjusting to your circadian rhythm will take some time and you may oscillate between insomnia & early morning grogginess for a bit until you find your groove.
If you’ve tried everything suggested and are still not able to sleep well, hope for a natural solution is not lost! We’ve only discussed the physical cause of sleep disturbances in this post. In our next posts, we’ll look at how Yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help on emotional and energetic levels too.